This is how one particpant of this year's Deacons Training Program said he would describe the program to someone who had never attended. The Program concluded last Sunday. Sixteen teenage boys participated in the week-long experience, which is designed to train them to serve competently as altar servers and deacons.
The program was directed by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan. He was assisted by V. Rev. Fr. Narek Berberian, Pastor of St. David Armenian Church (Boca Raton, FL) and Rev. Fr. Sahak Kaishian of Milwaukee, WI. All three are St. Nersess alumni.
Participants came from Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Ontario, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York.
Assisting as counselors and instructors were Deacon Sarkis Altunian of St. Sarkis Armenian Church (Dallas, TX), Deacon Chris Kesici of St. Stepanos Armenian Church (Elberon, NJ) and Sub-deacon Peter Hanoian of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church (Providence, RI).
Some of the participants already came to the Deacons' program with significant liturgical experience under their belts. Some returned to St. Nersess for their fifth or sixth consecutive year. These advanced students devoted themselves to a special workshop on the hymns and rituals of Holy Thursday.
In addition to the complete musical notation for these services, each student received an audio CD containing a recording of all of the hymns."Now that I have the music and the CD I can go over the chants syllable by syllable. This is a dream come true," said Mark Berberian, an 18-year old altar server from St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church (Chicago, IL).
Earlier in the week, in an engaging presentation, Fr. Daniel had narrated the history of the discovery of the cross of Christ by Empress Helena in the early fourth century, and the construction of the three major basilicas in Jerusalem, where Armenians have had a continuous presence until today. Together with Hayr Nareg and Der Sahak, Hayr Daniel had taught the deacons the ancient ceremony of Venerating the Holy Cross, which is accompanied by the hymn,Khachi ko Krisdos (We fall down before your Holy Cross, O Lord). This ceremony is conducted several times during Holy Week and on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in September.
Before he left, Khajag Srpazan presided over the ceremony of the Veneration of the Cross in the Seminary chapel. The deacons sang the hymns they had learned. Then, two-by-two, they approached the relic of the true cross and kissed it, a sign of our faith in the life-giving power of Christ's crucifixion, and of his love for each of us.
A generous grant by Dr. Sarkis Kechejian of Dallas, Texas, allowed the Seminary to purchase ten laptop computers to be used by participants of the St. Nersess Summer Conferences for the "Discover Armenian" program. One participant said that the highlight of the week for him was to acquire "bare-bones proficiency in written Armenian." (See the full report on the Seminary's new Armenian Language Lab, to be posted on this site shortly).
The Deacons' Training Program concluded on Sunday with the Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Fr. Sahak Kaishian. "This was probably the only Armenian sanctuary in the world where the Feast ofVartavar (Transfiguration of the Lord) was celebrated by a congregation whose median age was 17!,"said Fr. Sahak.
18-year old Hagop Keverian, who serves at the altar of Holy Trinity Armenian Church (Cambridge, MA), and who was returning for his fifth consecutive Deacons' program at St. Nersess, chose to sum up the program in an itemized list:
2. I love the program.
3. I love the people who run the program.
4. It is an experience you will never forget.
5. People come and teach from all over the world.
6. You meet new people every time you come.
7. You have a very fun time.
8. You can learn almost anything about the church and about God.
9. It is not a camp, it is a seminary.
10. This is a place where your whole life can be changed.
This week, the first of three High School Conferences was set to begin at the Seminary.